Captain’s Log

Day 38 of exile. I’m not sure how much longer I can last.

Earlier this year, we had heard the enemy had infiltrated our community and took the initial precautions. I placed tanks of elderberry syrup, tea tree oil, and hand sanitizer at every entrance. I stood guard, threatening to dump buckets of Purell into a moat built out of placebos and denial should the enemy approach our gate. But it stayed away.

At first we laughed. It worked! How clever we were, never touching bathroom door handles with our bare hands and foregoing any public gathering. Sure, we hadn’t seen anyone who didn’t share our last name in eons. But I had my ways to communicate across enemy lines. “OMG THIS WINTER IS THE WORST!” I posted. My friends sent back faces showcasing a variety of emotions and we patted ourselves on the back for having achieved some sort of human interaction for the day.

Daily, my husband tunneled through the snow into the battle zone. Each morning, he texted me the casualty report. “Three people out with the sniffles. Two reports of the stomach flu. One suspicious sounding cough down the hall.” In the afternoon, I would survey our rations. Our total sun exposure for the past month came from the amount of time it took to bolt across the parking lot to the doctor’s office in sub-zero weather. It was quite possible the children were developing rickets and/or scurvy. But milk and oranges were housed in an encampment set squarely in enemy territory.

We decided to make do with our store of goldfish crackers and multivitamins.

The inhabitants of the fort grew listless, but no one had resorted to cannibalism yet. Fine, just one or two cases of cannibalism but it didn’t break the skin and toddlers just explore the worlds with their mouths so don’t judge, OKAY? We kept up our training with fitness exercises such as “run around the couch three hundred times” and “pile everything we own that’s stuffed into the hallway and jump on it” and “barricade the bathroom door shut so I can eat a piece of candy in peace.”

Those were the first casualties of the winter. Those poor chocolate bars and stuffed animals never stood a chance.

I tried to keep my plans a secret lest the enemy discover them. It became a game of cat and mouse. We scheduled play dates only to promptly break them once one party had been infiltrated. When a rendezvous absolutely needed to occur, we would ask a series of questions to ensure the other party hadn’t been compromised. “Are you sick? Are your kids sick? Have you been exposed to anyone who has been exposed to anyone with an illness in the last six months?”

Then we cancelled anyway, just to be sure. This was war. You didn’t know who you could trust.

All communication became virtual. We texted friends, video chatted family. Then we took a Lysol wipe to our phone screens, just to be sure. You can’t be too careful.

But alas. No fortress can withstand powers such as these. Our walls were breached.

It might have something to do with that enemy training camp I send my kids to three days a week. They come back singing their ABCs and covered in hidden combatants. I had considered installing a decontamination shower in our doorway, but the department of common sense ruled it unnecessary. #MakeWinterGreatAgain. I regret that decision now.

All the great houses fall eventually and ours was no exception. Air raid sirens rang out hourly from my children’s beds. Buckets and humidifiers were stationed in critical combat zones. We pulled out every device that could show a purportedly educational cartoon and set it at full blast. Tissues were also left at strategic places, but my soldiers regarded those as torture worse than the enemy itself.

Eventually, we struck a deal. The enemy would retreat from our fort if we agreed not to leave the premises until winter ended. It was quite possibly a trick, given the several feet of snow outside threatening not to melt until the spring after next.

Beer supplies are low. Attitudes and temperatures are negative. Send in the damn robins already.

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Hey Mamas, it’s not about you

I don’t mean to brag, but my three month old slept through the night three nights in a row.

I promise you I’m not bragging, because my three year old did not. No, he crawled into our bed, slept their for an indeterminate number of hours before being discovered and returned to his own room. He then returned at an ungodly hour, repeatedly yelling, “Guys! It’s morning! Wake up, guys!”

It was, according to the sun, decidedly not morning.

Our middle child simply does not like to sleep, unless it is in his car seat at a decidedly inconvenient hour. Or on the couch right before dinner. Or in the middle of the hallway, mid-temper tantrum. When he was a baby, and well into his toddler years, I read every article on sleep possible. I soaked up every bit of advice I could. Nothing worked. When he was about eighteen months old, our sleep schedule looked like this:

* Put him to bed at 8pm.

* Comfort him when he woke up several times over the next two hours.

* Rock him in rocking chair from 11pm to 1 am.

* Put him down in his crib from 1am to whenever he woke up, 2 am, 3am, 4am.

* Switch with husband who would sleep with him in the recliner from then until about 5:30 when he would be awake for the day.

It was not ideal.

He has gradually gotten better, but I still wouldn’t say he sleeps through the night on any consistent basis. We tried everything to help him do so, from cry-it-out (fail) to co-sleeping (also fail). All he wanted to do was sleep in our arms, while we stayed awake.

When this baby was born, we braced ourselves for the onslaught of fatigue that was sure to hit. We went to bed each night, fully expecting to wake up never having slept. But it never came, and not because we have tried some new fantastic method (unless you can count giving up all hope).

Because it has nothing to do with us. Mamas, if you are exhausted, overwhelmed, and wondering what the hell you are doing wrong, let me tell you: Nothing. It’s got nothing to do with you.

We like to think it does. All day long, all of the parenting advice I’ve read from leading child psychologists and experts swims in my head. “Acknowledge emotions without condoning bad behaviors.” “Tell your child when you need them to do something, don’t ask.” “High iron foods are best absorbed in conjunction with Vitamin C.” “Children need at least 1 hour of active time a day, but 15 minute spurts are best.” “Calling girls beautiful hurts their self esteem.” “Overexposure to branding limits creativity.” All these tidbits of advice and rules I’m supposed to follow are harder to remember than formulas I was supposed to memorize during that semester of organic chemistry in high school.

Do you memorize formulas in organic chemistry? I don’t even remember.

We start to think that we can craft our children, making them exactly who we want to be if we just follow all the rules correctly. It’s a lie modern parents are sold (often by writers just like me, who want to share with you the latest research or interesting study). But we can’t craft them, because in reality, parenting has so little to do with the parents. We only get to guide our children down the path that nature has chosen for them. We don’t get to choose it ourselves.

Because I know you might not have chosen for your kid to be the biter in the preschool class, or to refuse to eat anything other than crackers (but the RIGHT crackers), or to scream uncontrollably every time it’s time to get in the car seat. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen for my kid to wake up approximately 37 times every night.

That’s not all to say all that research or advice is useless. For instance, I absolutely believe that early exposure to vegetables, not exclusively serving “kids food,” and only making one meal for dinner does make your kid less likely to be a picky eater. It just doesn’t guarantee it. Otherwise, my kids wouldn’t fuss every time I served a meal that doesn’t include ketchup as one of the sides. And I’m sure there are a good number of babies that can fall asleep if laid down “drowsy but awake.” And there are a good number who will scream bloody murder if you come within three feet of a crib before they are comatose.

But we don’t get to choose. We get to nurture, guide, influence, and hope. We just don’t get to choose.